2013 Outlook: Rinne didn't quite match his resplendent ratios from 2010-11 (2.12 GAA and .930 SV%), but he did reward the Predators organization after they doled out a massive, seven-year contract to him in November. His 2.39 GAA put him in the No. 14 spot league-wide, while his .923 SV% was good for seventh; add his league-leading 43 wins, and you've got the No. 7 goalie on the Player Rater for 2011-12. The loss of Ryan Suter is big, but the fact that the organization matched the offer sheet on Shea Weber will pay dividends both in solidifying the defensive corps as well as making Nashville an attractive spot for free agents for seasons to come -- after all, who wouldn't want to play on a team with Weber and Rinne for (at least) the next seven seasons? Rinne is one of the goalies in fantasy that can be taken early on in the draft, with his drafter knowing full well that he or she will get legit No. 1 production out of him, despite some struggles (3.08/.897 ratios split) in the KHL during the lockout.
2013 Outlook: A formidable fantasy force since 2002-03, Zdeno Chara shows no indication of slowing down. The 35-year-old actually eclipsed his former personal-best points total with 52 this past campaign. A top contributor in all relevant categories, Chara led blueliners in plus/minus, sporting a plus-33 for the second straight season. The stamina/health combo isn't too heavy of a concern, as the veteran D-man's commitment to nutrition and fitness is considered a deviation from common rule. Rumor has it 'Big Z' ate a chicken wing ' once.
2013 Outlook: While Daniel earns more value overall as the goal scorer of the Sedin twins, Henrik brings a level of consistency and excellence as a playmaker that would be difficult to find anywhere else. During the past three seasons, Henrik has not missed a game, accumulated 43 more assists than anyone else (225), scored the most points in the NHL (287) and is tied with linemate Alex Burrows for the best cumulative plus/minus (plus-84). So while Daniel earns more statistical fantasy value than Henrik because of the shots on goal category, there is certainly an argument to be made for Henrik's consistency making him the one you want. With no sign of the culture and team changing much for the Vancouver Canucks this season, there is no reason not to expect more of the same excellence from the twins.
2013 Outlook: Emerging as the Chicago Blackhawks' most consistent forward during the past few seasons, contributing in more than just the points categories, Sharp had his best overall fantasy season last year. Scoring 33 goals, 69 points and finishing plus-28, Sharp used his outside speed and laser shot to lead the Hawks with linemates Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane. There is no reason to suspect the pair won't be together again in 2012-13 and continue to light up lamps and reward fantasy owners.
2013 Outlook: Whenever a player's performance is notably different from one season to the next, we're left to wonder which of the two is the 'real' version of that player. This was our puzzle prior to 2011-12, and Howard proved that the all-around elite edition of himself -- with a 2.12 GAA and .920 SV% as evidence -- is the one that we should expect moving forward. The loss of Nicklas Lidstrom will be huge, and the fact that the Wings didn't land Ryan Suter to replace him is disappointing. But this is still a team that figures to be quite strong on both ends of the ice (as long as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are around), and Howard should retain his spot amongst the No. 1s in fantasy.
2013 Outlook: Toews is an elite, point-per-game star centerman and, with last season's concussion behind him, should return to his ways for the coming campaign. Even though he missed 23 games last season, Toews still finished with 57 points in 59 games. While Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa have a connection on one line, coach Joel Quenneville changes up the lines so frequently that Toews will spend more games with one of the other star players more often than not. Other than not piling up many penalty minutes and not taking as many shots as some other centermen, Toews has no holes in his fantasy game.
2013 Outlook: Despite offseason legal issues and weight-gain concerns, Dustin Byfuglien still managed to pull off an admirable 2011-12 campaign. Collecting 53 points (223 shots) in only 66 contests, Big Buff provided a teasing hint of what he's capable of with the Winnipeg Jets. We might find out the answer this shortened season, as Byfuglien is said to be in decent physical condition. Just don't hold your breath for a quality plus/minus rating.
2013 Outlook: Sometimes the players getting all the attention in the offseason deserve it. Parise's huge free-agent signing with the Minnesota Wild in cahoots with Ryan Suter was the big news of the summer. And why not? Parise, coming off a season almost completely missed due to major knee surgery, worked his way back up to full speed as the season progressed and is primed to return to the point-per-game threshold (or better) he held with the New Jersey Devils before he was hurt. No question the Wild scored a boon by adding Parise to the vanguard of their offense. He has a deft playmaker ready to go in Mikko Koivu and plenty of other pieces on offense with whom he can find chemistry. Suter adds another element to the team's power play that will only help fuel Parise's numbers. The move to the Wild should assure Parise's return to the top 10 amongst fantasy forwards.
2013 Outlook: No one should be surprised by Jason Spezza putting up 84 points for the Ottawa Senators last season. He is always a point machine on the ice. The surprising part is that he stayed healthy enough for 80 games to post an impressive grand total for the first time in three seasons. Spezza is still a rock-star, playmaking centerman just entering the latter half of his prime NHL years at 29 years old. The injury problems from the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons appear to be behind him and the team around Spezza is improving. Unlike many playmakers who are lacking in the scoring and shooting department, Spezza adds plenty of shots and plenty of goals to his fantasy totals. He matched a career high of 34 goals last season. Milan Michalek has evolved into the perfect linemate for Spezza, both finishing his passes and helping to make room to set up Spezza's goals. Spezza and Michalek are the two important cogs and will work with whoever joins them on the line. Spezza is a strong second-round pick in most fantasy leagues.
2013 Outlook: A reunion with his former coach in Dallas, Dave Tippett, was cited by some as a reason for optimism for Smith's first season in the desert. (And it didn't hurt that Tippett's system has yielded very strong results for goalies in recent seasons). Even so, no one foresaw Smith's exquisite 2011-12 season coming to fruition as well as it did: Smith dropped his GAA from 2.89 to 2.21, and raised his SV% from .899 to .930; he also tallied 38 wins, just two shy of his output from the three seasons prior combined. He got even better in the postseason, with a 1.99/.944 split in taking the Coyotes to the Western Conference final. The Coyotes' future in Arizona is still a matter of some consternation, but on the ice, the team brought back reliable D-man Zbynek Michalek this offseason. It should be another elite campaign for Smith in the fantasy world, but those acquiring him will not be able to wait until the middle of the draft to do so, as they did prior to 2011-12.
2013 Outlook: Kessel has all the hallmarks of a serial sniper in the NHL. He's fast, can stick handle through opponents and can release his shot before the goaltender knows what's happened. It is actually a bit surprising that his 37 goals were a career-high last season. Kessel has not had an elite playmaker on his line in recent seasons (at least one that worked out), so the lower-than-expected output is likely due to the supporting cast. Joffrey Lupul is a great fit on Kessel's wing as a great forechecker who wins pucks, but the duo could use someone who can send passes to Kessel at just the right moment. Tim Connolly didn't work out as a proposed solution last season, and Tyler Bozak is not an elite NHL centerman by any means. The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired James van Riemsdyk in the offseason but is also a winger and not an elite passer. Kessel will have another strong showing this season, but his true potential will have to wait. Luckily, Kessel still piles up fantasy value and is worthy of a top-30 forward selection.
2013 Outlook: Kopitar put in another superstar regular season and then dominated the postseason to get the Los Angeles Kings the Stanley Cup. He is just 25 years old and can be even better. We've never seen more than 81 points out of Kopitar in a single 82-game season, but he is capable of more than that. Consistency issues have been the only things to hold him back from challenging for one of the top spots in fantasy hockey. Can bringing the Cup to L.A. help him take the next step as a superstar? Or does maturing into his mid-20s make him stronger for this season? Maybe. It doesn't help that he is starting the campaign with a knee strain and may not be on the ice until closer to February. But when the basement production is still phenomenal and the overall missed time isn't expected to be excessive, there isn't much risk in leaning on Kopitar asone of the the pillars of your team. The Stanley Cup-winning lineup returns almost completely intact for the Kings, and Kopitar will produce with the same linemates he has had for several seasons now: Dustin Brown and Justin Williams. The secondary support from Mike Richards and Jeff Carter will also take some of the defensive pressure off Kopitar's unit.
2013 Outlook: In 2011-12, Brian Campbell attracted gobs of attention by adapting quickly and enjoying a 53-points season with his new squad, the Florida Panthers. And there's no cause to believe Campbell can't be as productive this year. When healthy, the 33-year-old is simply one of the best puck-moving D-men in the biz. Just don't ask for penalty minutes or too pleasant a plus/minus.
2013 Outlook: The last time Nash had a playmaker on his line who exceeded 40 assists, it was David Vyborny in 2007. Nash has never -- ever -- played regularly on a line with an elite playmaker in the NHL. Nash regularly scored 30 goals and made a couple of runs past 40 goals while playing with linemates who don't even compare to Brad Richards. The hope last season for a connection with Richards and Marian Gaborik, which ultimately didn't pan out, has been rekindled, except with Nash in Gaborik's place. Can Nash be among the league leaders for goals? Should be no problem. Nash hit the fantasy jackpot with a move to the Rangers and he is an easy choice as a first-line (top-30) fantasy asset.
2013 Outlook: During the 2011-12 season, the St. Louis Blues had one of the more effective timeshares in recent memory, with Halak and Brian Elliott both winding up as top fantasy performers by season's end. Halak -- who finished sixth amongst goalies on the Player Rater -- had 26 wins in 46 appearances, with a 1.97 GAA and .926 SV%; Elliott (who was the No. 1 on the Player Rater) managed 23 wins in 38 appearances, with a league-leading 1.56 GAA and .940 SV%. Halak was Blues coach Ken Hitchcock's slightly preferred option down the stretch, starting 19 games from February through April to Elliott's 14. Of the two, Halak seems like the better investment option for fantasy owners as the dawn of the 2012-13 season approaches, but Hitchcock has hinted recently that both men will see time (at least in the early going).